COOKEVILLE, Tenn., Aug. 1, 2022 — A Middle Tennessee judge who solicited sex from a married woman whose husband was seeking his judicial approval of an adoption has been suspended from the bench for the remainder of his term.
The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct, which polices judges, announced late Friday the suspension from the bench of 13th Judicial District Circuit Court Judge Jonathan Young, who was defeated in the Republican primary in May, for the remaining 30 days of his term in office.
The suspension order reveals Young “requested explicit” photographs of a married woman whose husband was seeking the judge’s approval to adopt one of her children and “met with her on multiple occasions outside of court, including a hotel in Cookeville … where they had sex.”
“When (the woman’s husband) learned that Judge Young had been soliciting intimate pictures from his wife and seeing her outside of court, including engaging in a physical relationship, (the husband), who felt betrayed by the court, confronted Judge Young,” the order stated.
“Despite (those) circumstances … Judge Young failed to recuse himself from the (couple’s) adoption case,” the order continued. “Instead, he entered an order … granting the adoption in which (the husband) adopted one of (his wife’s) children.”
Young did not respond to questions from the judicial board about the married couple’s complaint, according to the order.
This isn’t the first time Young has been caught engaging in sexually inappropriate behavior while on the bench. He was reprimanded by the board in October 2020 for sending messages “ranging from flirtatious to overtly sexual” — accompanied by a photo of himself in his judicial robe — to female lawyers and women with cases pending in his court, records show.
Young, whose judicial district includes Putnam, Cumberland and Clay Counties, was already under investigation by the board when the married couple filed a complaint against him in June, the suspension order revealed.
The initial probe by the board began after the Tennessee Court of Appeals in April barred Young from presiding over a governmental lawsuit against opioid makers, distributors and pharmacies. In that case, Young told a digital legal news publication the opioid defendants were guilty of “document hiding” — before he ruled against them on that issue.
Young then took to his Facebook page and complained, “Why is it that national news outlets are contacting my office about a case I preside over and the local news is not interested?”
“Screenshots of the trial judge’s Facebook page reveal that the page appears to be devoted in part to a re-election effort given a ‘Re-Elect’ picture banner next to his name,” the appellate opinion stated.
He went on to express an opinion about the litigation — a judicial no-no — and “liked” a comment saying pharmaceutical companies had political power in Tennessee and another labeling the Tennessean a “liberal rag.”
When the appellate court ordered him removed from presiding over the lawsuit, Young told a “local newspaper that ‘the plaintiffs tell me they’re going to appeal to the (Tennessee) Supreme Court, so this is obviously not the final decision on this,’” the suspension order stated. “No appeal was filed, and the decision to remove Judge Young from the case was, in fact, ‘the final decision on this.’”
Judicial right to free speech?
When the judicial board in May sent Young notice that he was under investigation for his behavior in the opioid litigation, the judge responded with a letter in which he asserted his First Amendment right to free speech, the order stated.
“Rather than take responsibility for the extra-judicial conduct that led to his removal from the case and the disruption to the orderly administration of justice caused by his conduct, Judge Young blamed the parties and their lawyers and attempted to portray himself as a victim,” the board’s order stated. “He also asserted, without citing any legal authority, that as a judge he essentially enjoyed a constitutional right to say and do as he pleased in the media and on social media platforms concerning cases assigned to his court.”
Young’s law license remains in good standing despite the suspension, but that could change. The judicial board said in its order that all information gathered against Young will be sent to the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility, which governs licensed attorneys in the state, when he leaves the bench.
“Although reasonable cause exists to believe that Judge Young committed the misconduct … Judge Young’s term ends Aug. 31, and he will no longer be subject to the board’s jurisdiction after that date,” the suspension order stated. “As a result, this order and all pertinent documents will be provided to the Board of Professional Responsibility to determine, in its discretion, what further action may be appropriate after Aug. 31.”
Young was elected to the circuit court bench in 2014. He sought reelection this year but was bested in the Republican primary by challenger Caroline Knight. She is unopposed in the August general election.